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There can be no return of the Stormont powersharing Executive until the Northern Ireland Protocol is removed, a rally in Co Antrim has been told.
TUV leader Jim Allister addressed the protest meeting in Ballymena where he said the protocol had separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and that this “cut to the very heart” of the union.
The rally is the latest in a series which have been taking place across Northern Ireland outlining unionist and loyalist opposition to the post-Brexit protocol, which sees additional checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
It is strongly opposed by unionists as a border in the Irish Sea.
Earlier this year, the DUP pulled out of the Stormont Executive in protest at the protocol and the party has vowed not to re-enter government until their concerns have been addressed.
A number of loyal order bands marched through Ballymena before several hundred people gathered in the town centre to hear speeches from Mr Allister, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib and Baroness Kate Hoey.
The three speakers are among a group who have launched legal action against the protocol, which is due to be heard at the Supreme Court.
Mr Allister said: “We must bring the mendacious Prime Minister who put this iniquitous protocol upon us to the point where he has to make a choice.
“And the leverage we have is to make the Prime Minister choose: do you want to save the protocol, or do you want to save Stormont?
“You cannot have both.
“And the reason I say you can’t have both is very simple: the price of Stormont is to implement the protocol and it is a price no unionist can pay or ever should have paid.”
He added: “The core premise of the protocol is that GB is a foreign country and that Northern Ireland, in trading terms, is an integral part of the EU on what is to be the economically integrated island of Ireland.
“The declaration of GB as a ‘third’ or foreign country cuts to the very heart of the Union.
“Little wonder the Court of Appeal admitted the protocol has subjugated Article 6 of the Acts of Union – the very basis of the economic union of the Union.”
Lady Hoey said: “I think people are angry in the pro-union community.
“I think we are angry at the way Northern Ireland has been treated by our own Government, but also particularly by the way the Irish Government and the European Union have colluded together to do what they could to set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.
“I think we all know how the protocol has divided Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, the principle of consent which was so crucial to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which many of us voted for.
“Now how betrayed we feel that the principle of consent has been overruled by our own government and by a European Union that used Northern Ireland to punish the rest of the United Kingdom.
“The price of Brexit to the people within the European parliament is going to be Northern Ireland. Well, we are not going to let that happen.
“None of us want to go back to dreadful days of violence but we cannot have a situation where our Government is ignoring the majority community in Northern Ireland.”
Referring to Thursday’s Stormont elections, Mr Habib said: “We have to have a unionist majority in Stormont, we have to use that unionist majority to bring Stormont down.
“There can be no Stormont for as long as the protocol exists.
“If we get that unionist majority then it is down to you people to hold those politicians to account, to make sure that they do what they promised which is to not allow the Executive to form and to ensure Stormont is not reformed until the protocol goes.
“You cannot have Stormont and the protocol, the protocol has to go first.”
Another rally is set to take place in Bangor, Co Down, on Saturday evening with the same three speakers alongside DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.